Chapter 21: A Little Drop of Poison
- Three Weeks Later
“Could someone please explain why I’m the only one doing this?” I asked breathlessly, ducking just as the edge of Boromir’s sword missed my head for the fifth time in ten minutes.
“Because,” Aragorn’s reasonable tone came from somewhere behind and off to my left, “You are our only trained healer, and have already proved competent at evading close range attacks. It seems prudent for you to devote some time to honing the skills that will assist in keeping you alive, rather than pouring all your time and energy into offensive and potentially unreliable ones.”
I ground my teeth and did my best to keep my focus on the Gondorian knight who was currently attempting to behead me with a blunt training sword.
Since the tentative apology Aragorn and I had exchanged almost a month ago, the air between us had seemed to clear a great deal. We’d arrived in Lothlórien in late January, and even now well into February it was obvious he still wasn’t completely on board with the idea of me barrelling headfirst into danger along with them. Still, he made no more show of it. In fact, if anything, he seemed to have jumped on the lets-make-Eleanor-marginally-less-of-a-safety-hazard wagon with gusto. The stoic (read: grouchy) ranger had taken to dropping me a lot of tips and advice on everything from defending myself and evading attacks to escaping dangerous situations. They were small things at first; how to effectively hide a knife up a sleeve or in a boot, how to break a chokehold, how to avoid or parry a knife attack, etc. Then, it had quickly escalated into “assisting” with my other lessons…
Boromir pivoted on the balls of his feet, faster than a man his size should have be able to, and tried to catch me with a surprise upper cut with the pommel of his blade. I saw it coming just in time and spun out of the way with just inches to spare. The momentum unbalanced us both, and I took the chance to hunch over on my knees and gasp for much needed breath. We’d been at this for hours now, and good as I was at running, keeping up with a seasoned Gondorian warrior in a one-sided sparring match was an entirely different ballgame.
“Faster,” Aragorn ordered without pause. I groaned, but straightened and got ready to dodge again. Boromir readied his sword and gave me an inquiring raise of one eyebrow, a silent question asking if I was ok to continue. I gritted my teeth determinedly and nodded. He came at me again.
“I get that,” I rasped out in between even more sharp pivots and close-call dodges. “What I don’t get is why I’m the only one who’s been training for the past hour straight, while you’ve all been sitting there smoking!”
Aragorn didn’t quite let out an amused chuckle, but only because he managed to turn it into a would-be-polite cough at the last second.
“The more you talk, the less breath you’ll have to dodge, lass,” Gimli informed me with an audible grin. He was sitting on a flat rock beside Aragon with his own pipe, his feet resting leisurely on a tree root.
“Urgh!” I grumbled, barely missing having the end of my ponytail severed by another close swing. “Stop distracting me with your logic!”
“Surely learning to ignore unhelpful distractions is a key part of the exercise.”
“You’re not helping, Legolas!”
The accused just chuckled, and I threw him a glare as I dodged another of Boromir’s overhand swings. He was standing beside Aragorn with one shoulder leaned casually against a tree, arms folded and a teasing smile on his handsome face — the smug git.
My archery lessons with him had continued as regular as clockwork during our stay in the wood, though considerably less awkwardly than the first time. The pair of us met every morning to practice until lunchtime, and my aim and draw speed were improving if nothing else, thanks to my stitches finally being removed. Legolas insisted that, despite my initial clumsiness with the weapon, I was improving fast — though I wasn’t 100% sure whether he was being genuinely sincere or just messing with me. He had an odd sense of humour like that. Our talks had tended to skew more and more towards friendly banter than serious instruction lately, and though Merileth was appalled by the brazen way we addressed each other, Legolas and I both preferred it that way. It was a vast improvement over the hostile glares or tense silences that had once been so frequent between us.
In that time, my curiosity had almost got the better of me. I’d been very tempted to cheat our bargain and ask either Aragorn or Haldir what the words mîr nín meant, but in the end I’d decided against it. Half of me wanted to respect the fact that he simply wasn’t ready to tell me, but the other half was really curious about the reaction the other elf of our company had given when I’d asked.
His pointy ears had turned pink for heaven sake.
“Ow!” A yelp of pain came from me as my toes were suddenly flattened under Boromir’s much heavier boot.
“Sorry!” For a second, his smooth-faced combat facade dropped, leaving him looking genuinely horrified that he’d hurt me. It was almost cute — considering he’d just been unapologetically swinging a sword at my head. I grimaced, hopping on one foot for a second and waving a hand to show I was fine.
“Pay attention,” Aragorn reprimanded, and I couldn’t tell if he was addressing me or my sparring partner. “You’ll have a limb taken off if you don’t keep your wits about you.”
I gave him flat look over one shoulder, and he returned it with a raised eyebrow. I serenely chose not spit a wiseass retort in his general direction. Baby steps on the road of progress.
“You know, it wouldn’t kill you to occasionally point out when I’ve done something right.”
“Praise will not keep you alive when an orc brute is attempting to take your head off your shoulders,” Aragorn replied smoothly and without a trace of sarcasm. He heaved a long sigh as I dodged another swing, clearly still too slow for his liking. “Either way, it matters little now. We shall be departing this place soon, regardless of your progress.”
“What?” I blurted, losing focus for half a second.
The pommel of Boromir’s sword clipped my left shoulder and I spun in a flailing pinwheel, falling inelegantly onto my butt in the grass. Boromir looked alarmed and gave me an apologetic look, but I waved him off, looking expectantly at Aragorn along with Gimli and Legolas.
“So, we’re finally to leave?” Gimli asked, sounding more disappointed than I’d expected him to be. Aragorn just nodded.
“Tomorrow at first light. We will have a day and a night to prepare, but I believe we have lingered here more than long enough,” he said, getting up from his seat on the flagstones and extinguishing his pipe with an ominous hiss. “Welcome and needed as our rest may have been, we cannot afford to tarry here forever.”
The other three men glanced at one another, but didn’t say anything in response. We all knew we would have to leave the Golden Wood eventually, but it was a subject no one had been keen to bring up, save for in passing. Even so, Aragorn — our de-facto leader in Gandalf’s absence — was right as always. We’d been here almost a month, and I doubted the world outside was getting any brighter with Sauron’s power amassing. We couldn’t afford to sit idly any longer, but that didn’t mean any of us were looking forward to leaving.
I pushed myself up on the grass into a sitting position. My right hand stung a bit where I’d scraped it on some stones.
“Have you told Frodo and the others yet?” I asked, thinking immediately to how saddened the hobbits would be to depart the wood. All four of them had grown very fond of the easy, worry-free routine of life in the here and now.
Aragorn shook his head at me, his face mirroring a similar feeling to mine.
“Not yet. We still need to decide on our course after we leave the safety of the forest. I will need to speak with Lord Celeborn on the matter,” he exhaled, stuffing his pipe into a pocket with a weary expression. “I shall tell the halflings. I’d suggest the rest of us begin preparations for our departure.”
He didn’t wait for anyone to comment or ask questions. He just picked up his sheathed sword, which had been sitting beside him, and turned to head back towards the camp.
In a moment of uncharacteristic sharpness, Boromir turned away from where I still sat on the ground and started after him.
Now, I don’t consider myself a snob; I wasn’t offended that he’d not offered me a helping hand up out of the dirt, as any gentleman would a lady. Yet, his inaction baffled me. Over the past two months I’d learned that Boromir, Son of Denethor, was pathologically incapable of being disrespectful to a woman, so much so it was almost verging on a handicap. Just a few weeks ago if he’d knocked me over, stepped on my foot, or so much as said “boo” in front of me, he would have likely been apologising repeatedly for the next few days. Now, it was like he hardly noticed the slight at all, as if he was constantly distracted from what normally would have bothered him — and it had only become worse over the past few weeks.
I watched as the two men left the clearing with a pensive look, leaning on my knees. Boromir had fallen in beside Aragorn, talking in hushed but harsh tones about something that clearly had the other man on edge. I saw the line of Aragorn’s shoulders tense and his expression turn to stone, staying that way until both men were out of sight through the trees.
Worry and a creeping dread filled me at that sight, though I couldn't really explain why even to myself. I shook it from my head, and was about to get up unassisted when a familiar hand found it’s way into my peripherals, upturned in an offer to help me up. Once upon a time I would have scowled begrudgingly at the gesture and the man offering it to me. Now I just rolled my eyes and smiled, taking the hand, and allowing my fellow elven trainer to pull me up.
Thankfully, Boromir wasn’t the only one who’d shifted gears over the past month.
“You’re getting faster,” Legolas said, hefting me up off the ground and back onto my feet with little to no effort. I returned his smile easily.
“Pretty soon, I’ll be faster than you.”
“I would not bet coin on that,” he replied smoothly, adding a deliberately patronising look down his nose at me — one I’d learned was intended to tease, not to taunt. I made a show of considering the idea, tapping my chin with a finger, then shrugged and shook my head.
“No, I really think I would.”
“Aye, the lass has become pretty light on her feet of late,” Gimli’s gruffly amused chuckle came from where he’d just finished putting out his pipe. My smile widened, and I turned back to see Legolas eyeing the dwarf dubiously with a narrowed gaze. I poked him in the chest with my index finger.
“How about it, your highness? Willing to put your money where you mouth is?”
Legolas dubiously looked back down at me, sighed, then rolled his eyes, though his own good-natured smile had returned.
“Very well, my lady,” he said with mock solemnity and what might have passed for a chivalrous bow, if it hadn’t been for the mocking note in his voice. “By Elbereth’s(1) mercy, I swear that the day you best me in any such contest will be the day I gift you with half my inheritance.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” I grinned. A rare mix of amused contentment took his expression for a moment, but it faltered as his gaze fell on my right hand.
“Eleanor, you’re bleeding.”
I glanced down, only to find the scrape I got on my palm wasn’t so much a scrape as a moderate graze. It barely hurt, but it had broken the skin deep enough to seep a significant amount of blood down over my fingers without me noticing. I made a half impatient, half disgusted noise as it dripped onto my boot, and tried to wipe some of the mess away with my other hand.
“Do you need a gauze, lass?” Gimli asked, spotting my small but rather bloody cut as he came over.
I didn’t need one, but before I could say so an idea occurred to me. For the past week I’d been practicing, re-practicing, and building upon my healing routines that had been drummed into me by Lord Elrond, as well as replenishing all the remedies I’d used up in Moria. Merileth had been sweet enough to gain me access to Galadriel and Celeborn’s house library, and I’d been doing a little bit of extra homework on my healing studies in an effort to ready myself for when we left.
It had paid off too, and in a few new ways I hadn’t shared with them yet…
I probably shouldn't have done it; I could practically see the disapproving stare Lord Elrond would have given me for doing something so frivolous with my healing skills, but it was just too tempting.
“No thanks,” I smiled at them both, and held up my hand with a little flourish like David Blaine. “Watch this.”
Both elf and dwarf gave me a strange look, but focused their attention on my upturned hand. I did too, my body relaxing as my mind strained to focus on what I was trying to do. I'd done it before, albeit on smaller and less messy cuts and bruises, but it was a little trickier to do with an audience.
I concentrated on the feel of my entire body, and all the complex pieces that made it up. Then I focused on the steady beat of my heart, on the well of energy stored within me in the form of a billion chemical reactions all happening at once. Then, using my fëa(2) as a guide, I concentrated on my injured hand, trying as hard as I possibly could to focus on the natural healing processes that were already at work. It was a similar technique to the one I’d used on Frodo during the limifëa(3) back in Rivendell, only this time it was working in my skin rather than in my mind. I could feel the network of all the supportive energies and reactions that made up my hröa(4), and felt it as a warm tingling sensation as I concentrated a fraction of all that power into the palm of my hand.
At first nothing happened. Then, slowly, the bleeding began to slow, before stopping entirely as the inflammation of the skin around the shallow cut began to recede. It was like watching a time-lapse movie of a recovery, the tissue of my palm very slowly knitting itself back together again at about 10x the natural speed. Within seconds, the wound had closed entirely, and after a minute what would have otherwise taken a week to heal left only a tender, pink mark in its place.
“That is quite the trick,” Legolas said, something like real interest in his voice. I shrugged, trying not to look too pleased with myself.
“Something I’ve been practicing. I doubt it will be much help on anything deeper than small cuts and bruises, though.”
“Why’s that?” Gimli cut in, peering somewhat suspiciously at my half-healed hand. I gently rubbed the last of the blood from the fresh little scar, and lowered my faintly wobbly arm to my side again.
“Rapid healing like that uses up a lot of energy, even on small wounds, because the process is being accelerated beyond its natural limit. Speed-healing anything severe, like a deep wound, broken bones, or internal damage would take up too much crucial stored energy,” I poked my stomach, which was noticeably flatter and tougher now than it had been when we’d left Rivendell. “And I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly packing much in the excess fuel department anymore.”
“You best look into putting some meat back on those bones then, lass. Just in case,” Gimli quipped without missing a beat. I gave the dwarf a narrow look, but he only smirked at me through his beard, slung his axe over one shoulder, and moved off to catch up with Aragorn and Boromir.
For a moment I was tempted to run and catch up with them too, but changed my mind at the thought of being there when Aragorn broke the news to the four hobbits. Merry and Pippin had taken to practicing with Aragorn and Boromir with their short blades in the afternoons while Legolas, Gimli, Sam, Frodo and I watched. They rarely woke early enough to come along to the morning training drills, and would likely only just be getting second breakfast underway back at the camp, merrily chattering the morning away.
My stomach growled at the thought. Just that little bit of accelerated healing had left my stores from first breakfast entirely depleted, and my metabolism was now demanding that I top off the tank posthaste. However, with the news that we were going to be leaving soon, there was something I wanted to do first. Or rather, someone I wanted to talk to.
I turned around to find that Legolas had stooped to gather the last of our training gear, both my bow and his slung casually over one shoulder.
“I’ll meet you all back at the camp. There’s something I have to see to,” I said to his back. He nodded and peered at me over his shoulder, that familiar half-smile pulling at his lips once again.
“If you run into Gweredir or Colion on the way, please ask them to put my sleeping mat back where they found it,” he called as I left. “I’d rather not have to climb to the top of that mallorn tree to retrieve it.”
Merileth was working in the Water Gardens when I found her, a small but beautiful section of Galadriel’s own personal gardens that was almost entirely devoted to sprawling canals, clear fish ponds, water lilies, and a few little grassy islands with wooden bridges linking them. Several of the handmaidens had settled themselves on a few, chattering away and gracing me with polite smiles as I passed them.
I hadn’t seen much of Galadriel herself in the past few weeks, but I was actually alright with that. Instead, I’d been spending a great deal of my spare time with Merileth and a few of the other handmaidens. Despite my first impression of them, there were actually several who enjoyed talking about things other than gowns, gardens, and gossip.
Merileth had one of the smaller islands to herself while she worked, and as I crossed the bridge to reach her I saw why. Gweredir and Colion were playing by the side of one of the fish ponds, leaning over the water to see the bright gold koi while their big sister watched them with a small smile. It was a warming sight to see, and the thought of having to say goodbye to it so soon made my heart sink a little.
Merileth set down her needle and looked up from her work as she heard me coming, and we smiled at each other in wordless greeting as I approached.
“What are you working on this time?” I asked immediately, spotting the garment draped over her lap. It was made of an odd looking elven material in a shade of dark green, too heavy and warm to be a gown and the wrong colour to be part of any of the Galadhrim’s uniforms.
“You shall see later, my lady,” she said, still smiling knowingly. She patted the grass next to her and I plopped down comfortably as she returned to her work. For a moment we just sat there in companionable silence, listening to the soft chatter of the other handmaidens nearby, or the occasional laugh of the two boys. I chuckled at their antics, watching as Gweredir attempted to show is brother how to catch a fish with his bare hands. Merileth’s smiled again as she set down her work and turned to me, the expression turning a bit hollow.
“I hear you and your company are to depart soon.”
“Word gets around fast,” I said mildly, but nodded, unable to keep the dread at the thought out of my smile. “The others are making preparations now. Sounds as if we’ll be leaving tomorrow.”
Merileth’s face didn’t quite fall, but it was plain to see she was almost as saddened by the idea as me. She shook her head as if to banish the morose thoughts and graced me with another warm smile as she returned to her stitching.
“Gweredir and Colion have scarcely stopped talking of you and your companions. I trust they have been behaving themselves while in your company?”
A nervous cough escaped me.
Gweredir and Colion had been frequent spectators to mine and the others’ training sessions, much to Boromir’s and Gimli’s disapproval — something about innocent children being influenced by violence at a young age. I might have been inclined to agree, if I wasn’t privy to exactly how not innocent Merileth’s two little brothers really were. For all their good manners, polite words, and fierce desire to make their big sister proud, they were both mischief incarnate, and had become well known for their “games.” Games from which no one was exempt.
“It’s a noble effort to keep the morale of you and your company high!” Gweredir had assured me solemnly, right after I’d caught him slipping live beetles into Gimli’s boots while he was asleep.
“Oh, of course! Perfect little gentlemen, the both of them,” I lied, trying hard for her sake to sound sincere. Merileth paused in her sewing and gave me a skeptical sideways look. I gave her a sheepish shrug in return and she sighed, abandoning her needlework.
“I shall have to speak to them, again.”
“It’s alright, Merileth, really,” I said, giving her a gentle nudge and an ernest look. “They’re only trying to help. Keeping us cheerful, you know?”
She exhaled through her nose, but a small twinkle graced her brown eyes.
“I know. They once did the same for me whenever I grew sad or afraid, after my parents departed.” She set aside her needlework and turned to face me properly, her warm smile gaining a vaguely teasing edge. “You seem to enjoy doing the same for your companions, too.”
“What? Pulling pranks?”
“No,” she answered, chuckling. “Making them smile, even when it might otherwise be inappropriate.”
An unexpected laugh escaped me, and it caught Colion’s attention. He spotted me, grinned, and waved, almost falling face-first into the pond before Gweredir could catch him.
“I suppose I do,” I chuckled. “God knows we could use more smiles and laughs, what with…”
I bit down on the words as I realised what I’d just been inches from saying. No one had specifically said not to talk about the true nature of the Fellowship’s task — the Ring, a journey into the firepits of Middle Earth, all that — but it had always seemed like a sensible idea to share that knowledge only on a strict “need-to-know” basis. I trusted Merileth enough myself, but I couldn’t speak for the others, and the Fellowship’s secrets weren’t mine to share.
Merileth tilted her head curiously to the side. She opened her mouth to ask something, then seemed to think better of it, sweeping the conversational hiccup away with a casual flick of a graceful hand.
“How goes the archery training?” she asked, seamlessly changing the subject. I didn’t quite exhale in relief.
“Fine, as far as I can tell. I’m not skinning my forearms with the bowstring anymore.”
“And what of your handsome instructor?”
I eyed her.
“What of him?”
“You both seem much closer now than when you first arrived,” she commented with a nonchalant smile and an elegantly casual shrug. “Or, at least, that seems the case on his part.”
Well, she had me there. My ‘handsome instructor’ and I had been training together every day for almost a month now. There wasn’t really any way to do that without getting to know someone well, and Legolas and I talked — a lot. It was actually a surprise how easy it was to talk to him now, considering how much we’d loathed each others company when we first met.
Still, I really had absolutely no dignified response to that kind of comment.
“I guess we have…” I continued to fail at sounding unconcerned, so I changed my tactic. I leaned an elbow on my knee, rested my chin on a fist, and gave her a fox-like smile. “So you think he’s handsome, huh?”
The regal elven woman looked at me serenely down her nose, one pale gold eyebrow raised.
“You do not?”
“I do,” I said, hoping to sound indifferent. “But so what? Just because someone is pretty doesn’t make them interesting, or kind, or good company.” I deliberately neglected to point out that, since arriving in Lothlórien, I’d begun to find that he was in fact all of those things. Where I’d once had an only barely tolerable travelling companion in the blond elf, I now had — dare I say it — a friend.
Merileth giggled, and it sounded like wind-chimes.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone dare refer to the son of the Elvenking as ‘pretty.’”
I grinned at her, “And yet, you’re not denying it, either.”
She threw her head back and laughed at that. It was a light, honest laugh, one that rang just a bit too loud to be lady-like but was filled with so much genuine warmth that it didn’t matter. It was a beautiful sound, one that instantly brought a smile to my face along with the two boys and the other handmaidens who were nearby enough to hear…
It was pretty easy to see how Haldir had become so smitten with her.
I sat there grinning at that thought as she regained herself and wiped her eyes with the edge of her sleeve.
“If it is not too bold to say, my lady, I shall be sad to see you go. I have enjoyed your company these past weeks.”
I chuckled through a grin too, though mine wasn’t nearly as musical.
“It’s not too bold at all. I will be sad to go, too.”
We shared a quiet, faintly sad smile and looked out over the calm waters of the fish ponds, the surface occasionally rippling as a fish jumped at Gweredir and Colion’s antics. I chewed my lip at the sight of them, then turned once again to the lovely elven woman who’s become what seemed like my only female friend in a long time. “Merileth, I have to ask. What has been going on with you and Haldir all this time?”
Her smile vanished instantly, her expression stuck somewhere between startled surprise and careful neutrality. She didn’t exactly blush, but I could see the beginnings of colour creeping up her pale neck from under the collar of her dress.
“Whatever do you mean?”
“I mean we’ve been here almost a month, and every time I see you two together the air all but turns to sunshine and rainbows. But neither of you say anything beyond polite niceties,” I answered, displaying my masterful knack for subtlety. It had been a question that had been nagging at me for weeks, but I’d been too worried about offending her to ask. Now however, I was asking as much to slake my own curiosity as to hear Merileth’s reason for not pursuing anything with the Marchwarden, whom she so obviously adored.
She looked away from me, almost despairingly down at her discarded sewing.
“I-I don’t think… I mean, I simply…” Her voice faltered, and she sighed in defeat, not finishing the sentence.
“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” I said gently, though it wasn't really a question. Her shoulders slumped and she shrugged weakly.
“I believe he is my other half, yes.”
I furrowed my eyebrows at her, waiting for clarification. It didn’t come.
“You say that like you mean it literally.”
“I do,” she looked back at me, her dismay momentarily eclipsed by curious confusion, eyebrows pinched. “Did your parents never teach you of how Eldar find their intended?”
“I’m, well… having some issues with my long-term memory. Very long-term,” I answered feebly. She just stared at me, and I shrugged helplessly. “Long story.”
She looked for a moment as if she wanted to question me further, but decided against it at the last second. I’d shared a lot with Merileth over the past few weeks, but there were still things I didn’t feel ready to try and explain to anyone unless I needed to. Instead she fiddled with a strand of her long pale blond hair, considering her words and regarding me pensively.
“It is not a precise science, but all elves can instinctively sense when they find one whom they have the potential to become close to, be it a friendship, or something more. Similar personalities and such, they’re drawn to one another, and the sensation is translated into our physical senses. Often, it is at first sight, sometimes by hearing their voice, or by feeling their touch,” she explained.
I raised an eyebrow at her.
“Love at first sight? Really?”
Merileth continued to look at me with perfectly seriousness, and I had to force the sceptical smirk from my face.
Slightly clichéd and soppy as it might sound in practice, when I stopped and really thought about it, it actually made sense. Elves were supposed to be much more in tune with their emotions and feelings than humans were (present London girls excluded). I guess it wasn’t all that big a surprise that when they found someone they just ‘clicked’ with, the instinct spilled over to their dominant physical senses too.
“And that happened for you?”
“For me, yes,” Merileth said, her gaze drifting from mine as her cheeks coloured. “I knew the moment I heard him first speak my name. And though I know he feels something, I do not know if he feels the same as I do in return.”
It took all my self control not to slap a palm against the middle of my face.
“Oh for the love of…” I broke off suddenly and stared at her, eyes narrowed. “Wait a second, you mean he doesn’t know? You haven’t told him how you feel?”
Merileth’s cheeks upgraded from rosy pink to valentine red. She shrugged, and I lost the ability to restrain my face-palm.
All this time I’d been labouring under the assumption at least one of them had owned up to how they felt. Emotionally repressed Haldir I could understand saying nothing — sort of — but Merileth? How she had managed to keep her painfully obvious feelings under wraps from him all this time was beyond me. Were I in her shoes, I think I would have suffered an aneurysm by now.
“I admit, I have not addressed my feelings to him as bluntly as you just did,” Merileth reasoned, utterly failing to mask her disappointment, “But he has never made any show of… reciprocation.”
I wanted so, so badly to slap her upside the head. For the life of me I couldn’t understand how the woman had failed to see exactly how much Haldir did want to be with her. Everyone else in the forest seemed to.
"What a delightful pair of love-sick idiots they make," Tink commented dryly.
"Preaching to the choir, Tink,” I replied with an internalised sigh. I looked back over to where the two boys were still playing, mulling over the whole bizarre situation. That was when a thought struck me, a memory of something Legolas had told me about Haldir. It had been weeks ago, back when we had first started training together — were it not for our girly conversation about men I might not have even remembered.
The thought began to snowball the more I let it roll around in my mind, and as it grew, so did my grin.
I ignored both Merileth and Tink, catching Gweredir’s eye from across the pond. He looked up upon noticing me, and gave me a questioning tilt of the head. I smirked, and gave a tiny sideways nod of the head at his sister, who was still blushing furiously and eyeing me suspiciously.
Gweredir looked between her and me for a long moment. Then he got it.
From across the pond he mirrored my grin, and gave a very subtle nod for one so young.
“Perhaps the Marchwarden in question just needs a bit of a push,” I said only just loud enough for the boys to hear.
"What are you…?" But Tink trailed off as she followed my train of thought to its conclusion. “Oh — oh wow, boss. That’s kind of harsh and manipulative, even for you.” I could all but feel her grin on my own face. "Lets do it!"
Merileth, meanwhile, had been watching me with puzzled eyes and a faintly concerned tilt to her head the entire time.
“A push?” she asked nervously. I nodded.
“Someone very wise once told me that some men fall in love, and some need a shove to get them moving,” I told her sagely, wondering briefly how Katie would have reacted had she known I was quoting her relationship advice to a love-sick elf maiden. Probably laugh herself sick.
Merileth’s concerned look only deepened at that statement, bordering on fearful.
“Said like that, you make is sound as if you plan to push him over a cliff.”
I gave her my sweetest smile, and got quickly up off the grass, heading straight towards Gweredir and Colion.
“Something like that.”
Lothlórien, as far as forests went, really didn’t seem to care much for adhering to a strict seasonal protocol.
It still wasn’t quite spring yet, with the gold winter leaves still lingering on the trees, yet the days were getting longer, and noticeably warmer, by the time we were to leave. It was warm that morning as I stood there in the empty camp site on the day of our departure, staring around at the sunbathed clearing where we’d been camped, and unsure of what exactly I was feeling.
It had been decided the evening before that we’d be journeying down the river instead of on either the West or East banks. Several male elves, including Rúmil and Orophin, had been along earlier to help Legolas, Gimli and the hobbits carry the last of our supplies to the forest’s dock. I’d elected to stay behind to ‘make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything important.’
It wasn’t quite a lie, but only just. I had wanted to make sure I hadn’t forgotten any of the salves or remedies I’d been replenishing since Moria, but more than anything I had wanted to enjoy one last, quiet moment alone with my thoughts.
One more moment to remind myself of what, against every kind of better judgement I had, I was willingly leaving behind.
My thumb ran absently over the worn engraving on my knife as I stared up through the golden leaves, patches of watery blue sky growing brighter with the early morning sunlight. Ever since my meeting with Lady Galadriel and her handmaidens, it had been very quiet inside my head. Tink had been unusually quiet the past few weeks — peaceful even. She did, of course, occasionally chip in with her usual brand of subtle advice and snarky commentary, but for the most part she’d seemed content to simply remain quiet, and watch the world outside from the depths of my subconscious.
Just like she was now. I could feel her there as we both watched the gradually lightening sky. The ‘sound’ of her sad sigh echoed up through my thoughts.
"You ok?" I asked.
Tink didn’t reply for a good few moments, then seemed to exhale as the saddened sensation I felt coming from her deepened.
"It is beautiful here," she said quietly, as if that was explanation enough for her weeks of silence. "I’ll be sad to say goodbye. I feel as if this may be the last time we’ll ever see it."
The words had an unexpected effect on me, too. I’d expected to feel nervous about leaving the safety of Lothlórien, but all I felt at those words was a profound sadness. The kind of sadness you feel at leaving home, and knowing you’ll be gone a long time.
"Maybe, but I hope you’re wrong."
"So do I, boss."
I wanted to ask if there was something else eating at her, to say that there had to be more than just that as a reason for her weeks of voluntary silence, but in the end, I chose not to press her — not yet. She’d sounded so tired as she’s said those simple words, looking up at the gold-leaved canopy of the elven forest through my eyes. I’d take that over a confrontation with my survival-focused alter ego any day.
The memory of mine and Tink’s dreamscape standoff from a month ago had come uninvited to the forefront of my thoughts frequently. I still didn’t fully understand what had happened on that beach, what I’d experienced when I’d felt the pressure of her gaze on me, but whatever it was, it had left our strange mental alliance rather strained. Something had changed between us. I could feel it, even if I couldn’t put it into words. Whatever Tink was, beyond the primal personification of my survival instincts, I still wasn’t 100% sure. She had displayed so much more than just the raw desire to survive; she’d shown a desire for answers, for knowledge, and not just a willingness, but a want to speak with and listen to me.
Something about that was still bugging me. It didn’t add up, but I couldn’t work out why…
“Are we ready?”
A month ago I might have flinch-jumped at the sound of Aragorn’s voice appearing from nowhere behind me, but even the jumpiest of scaredy-cats learn eventually. I made myself remain relaxed, and turned to find him standing at the foot of the stone steps that lead down into the glade. His arms were folded and he was watching me with that sombre mask he always wore. I nodded with a small shrug, taking my hand off my knife hilt.
“Just about,” I said quietly. The camp site felt too quiet and too void of good smelling food, and I'd had my fill of reminiscing. The place didn’t feel the same without the hobbits, or Gimli, Boromir and Legolas, and I didn’t want the feeling of loss to linger. I drifted over to Aragorn’s side, glancing one last time over my shoulder at the long extinguished campfire. “You think we’ll ever come back here again?”
Aragorn breathed deeply before answering.
I chuckled, but it came out hollow as I looked up at him.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“But not nearly as bad as you,” he smiled down at me weakly, giving up on trying to look unaffected by our leaving. He gestured with his chin for us to go, and we both left the empty camp without looking back.
It didn’t take us long at all to walk to the docks, especially at the speed of Aragorn’s strides. By the time we got there, the others had almost finished loading the boats down with our restocked supplies, having received plenty of help from several members of the Galadhrim, including Haldir and his brothers. At the behest of Lord Celeborn — Galadriel’s husband and near equal in the mystically cryptic department — we’d been gifted with three small boats that would be easy to hide whenever we needed to abandon them and carry on our journey on foot. The question of where we’d be leaving them was clearly still undecided, because Lord Celeborn was there in person, speaking in serious tones with Legolas and Boromir.
I say speaking; the elf lord was, for the most part, just standing there observing the man, elf and dwarf arguing, serene and noble with his silver blond hair and regal blue robes. Legolas, as per usual, looked unruffled and calm about whatever was being spoken about, Gimli was staring to look irritated, but Boromir looked by far the least happy of all. He was arguing in sharp tones and gesturing with his hands to the boats.
“… river cannot be crossed on foot! Osgiliath port is the nearest pass, and it has been overrun for weeks!” Boromir was saying, his tone a hair’s breadth away from exasperated.
“Your brother has been unable to retake it in your absence?” Gimli asked, raising a thick eyebrow at him.
“Despite my father’s expectations, Faramir is not a warrior captain. His strengths are not in direct confrontation,” Boromir replied without malice or judgment, merely as a statement of fact.
“If you are so determined to return to your city by a safer route, what is stopping you from turning back and taking the road via the mountains?” Legolas asked, a polite inquiry to anyone else, but I saw the tension in his hands and shoulders that gave away his annoyance.
I felt both my eyebrows raise. I knew from first hand experience by now that it took quite a lot to piss him off that much.
“I would advise against that,” Celeborn spoke for the first time since we’d arrived. He had a strong, gentle baritone, similar in temperament to Galadriel’s but lower and far less imposing. “That path is no longer safe. Captain Haldir’s scouts report that the way you took to arrive here is now all but overrun with orc packs still searching for you.”
Boromir visibly deflated at the news.
“Then we all have no choice but to take the river. We will have to choose a side before we reach the Falls of Rauros,” Legolas said.
“The Eastern bank will lead us closer to Mordor, even if I don’t relish the idea of venturing through Emyn Muil,” Gimli added with an almost invisible shudder, and Legolas gave the dwarf a slight wince of agreement at the idea.
“The Western bank would be safer, and easier on the hobbits,” Boromir started to argue again but Legolas cut him off mildly.
“And would also take us within a crow’s flight of Minas Tirith, coincidently.”
Boromir gave the elf a scathing look.
“Regardless of whether you wish to you use my city as a sanctuary, the West bank would be…” he started, but broke off as he spotted Aragorn and I coming straight towards them.
Aragorn had a good pokerface, but Boromir’s wasn’t much better than mine. I knew there was something they had been arguing about earlier that I hadn’t heard, but from the sudden silence I was willing to bet a limb that it was about which road we would take when the river could take us no further. Neither man said a word to each other as we came to a stop, but the tension was so thick I was reasonably sure that if I stuck my knife into the air, it would have stayed there.
“My Lord Celeborn,” Aragorn greeted the regal looking elf lord with a formal incline of the head which he returned. “We must thank you again for your hospitality and shelter.”
“Your need was great and necessary, Estel, there is no need for formalities.” His dark blue eyes drifted over us all, lingering for a brief moment on each of us, me last of all, before returning to Aragorn. “However I must ask you delay your departure by a few moments more.”
Aragorn, along with Gimli and Boromir, gave the elf lord mixed expressions of confusion, surprise and mistrust, but Celeborn just chuckled, the sound a deeper pitched reflection of his wife’s wind chime laugh.
“You did not honestly think that the Lady of the Golden Wood would let you depart without tokens of our good will for your journey?” he asked, smiling so minutely it was barely visible. I glanced between the Lord of Lothlórien and the boats, where Sam and Merry had just discovered the lambas bread loaves, while Frodo and Pippin reluctantly rationed out the last of their pipeweed.
“I was kind of under the impression that we had three boat loads of generous good will already,” I said pensively. That garnered a true smile from Celeborn as he turned his gaze on me.
“True, but I believe the Lady wishes to be a little more specific in her gifts to you all than mere supplies,” he said, and tilted his head towards the entrance to the clearing where Aragorn and I had just come from. All of us turned to find said Lady of the Wood in all her golden haired splendour gliding towards us, garbed from head to toe in white. She was flanked by all her handmaidens, all of who’s arms were ladened with small bundles and rolled garments of the same fabric I’d seen Merileth working on earlier.
Galadriel graced her husband and my companions with a bright smile as she came to a stop, while each of her handmaiden in turn approached each member of the Fellowship with their respective bundles.
“Indeed I do,” she said with a near-mischievous glint in her eye. She gave her handmaids an imperious wave, and each of them carefully unfurled their bundles into long cloaks that had been made to fit each one of our heights perfectly, even the petite hobbits. “Myself and my ladies have crafted these for you and your company. Though they will not shield you from arrows or blades, they are formed from fibres of the trees of Lothlórien, and will help shield you from unfriendly eyes.”
Merileth approached me with a knowing smile, and I couldn’t help but smile back as she brought the moss coloured cloak to wrap around my shoulders, her sisters doing the same for each other member of the company. I held still as she carefully fastened the pin at the collar for me, so the delicately wrought metal of the leaf rested against the skin of my collarbone. Unable to help herself, she straightened the fabric around my shoulders — a tad informal, but a familiar habit from when she’d helped me dress during my recovery.
“Not a gown this time I’m afraid, my lady,” she whispered sadly when she was satisfied with my appearance. I glanced down at the cloak, running a hand over the soft, but sturdy fabric. It felt odd to be back in my hunting greens again after so long. Ever since I’d agreed to let her dress me for dinner one night, she had insisted on garbing me in a dizzying array of beautiful handmade gowns at any opportunity. It had become something of a secret joke between us, and thinking of it made me realise how much I really was going to miss her.
“No, I suppose it’s not,” I replied quietly. When I looked back at my friend, she still looked saddened, but there was something else in her expression as well — something she was trying to hide, brightening her features underneath the solemnity. Curious, I inclined my head a little closer and whispered, “You’re smiling again. Any reason why?”
The pale elf maid’s cheeks flooded with colour, but she didn’t seem at all embarrassed about it like she had mere hours ago. She flicked her hazel eyes very slightly to the left where Haldir and the rest of the Galadhrim where watching the entire proceedings solemnly from a little way off.
I knew better than to assume the warm look in Haldir’s eyes in our general direction was a mere coincidence.
“I suspect you may know already, my lady,” she whispered back with a touch of accusation, but not bothering to mask her smile anymore.
I gave her my widest, beaming grin, and said nothing.
When each of the Fellowship had been garbed in their respective cloaks, Galadriel signalled another trio of her handmaidens, who stepped forward bearing not bundles, but several different objects of varying sizes. Galadriel took the second largest from the youngest maid and turned to Aragorn.
“Here is the gift of Celeborn and Galadriel to the leader of your Company,” she handed Aragorn a beautifully made sheath, inlaid with gold patterns that resembled both flowers and flames, and crafted perfectly to fit his sword. The ranger took the gift from Lady Galadriel with a half baffled and half awed look behind the formal facade. He dipped his head in a short bow of thanks, and Galadriel’s smile grew as she added quietly, “Though I doubt there is any greater gift I might offer than the one you already possess.”
Her crystal blue eyes lingered very deliberately at the base of his neck, and for a moment I had no idea what she was looking at. Then Aragorn shifted, and I caught a faint glint of silver. I’d never really taken much notice of the necklace he constantly wore there, usually covered by his shirt or cloak, but I recognised it now as the same one I’d seen Arwen wear so often back in Rivendell.
Aragorn’s face drew from confused into a neutral mask, but his eyes showed a flicker of deepest longing. He thanked Galadriel again and stepped back as she turned from him to Legolas.
“My gift for you, Legolas, is a bow of the Galadhrim. Worthy of the skill of our woodland kin,” with those words, she presented him with potentially the most beautiful bow I’d ever seen. It was carved from silver-white wood of the mallorn trees, and bizarrely looked both lighter and sturdier than his original dark-wooded Mirkwood bow. It must have been a real marvel of craftsmanship, because even Legolas looked hugely impressed and thanked her graciously in Sindarin. She graced him with a warm smile before moving on to Boromir.
To him she presented a large, but elegant looking double edged dagger with a wrought gold hilt, along with a sheath for it to lie in.
“The knife is weighted so that no matter how it is thrown, or from what distance, it shall always strike with the blade first. May you use it to defend that which you hold dear, Boromir of Gondor,” she told him seriously without breaking gaze, tapping a fingernail gently against the polished flat of the blade. Boromir looked at the towering elf lady with an expression I couldn’t interpret, something lost between uncertainty and mistrust. He managed after a moment to bow respectfully and offer his thanks, though his voice sounded croaky.
I eyed the elegantly made knife as Boromir attached the sheath to his belt and couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy for its design. I’d lost count of the number of times I’d hit a target with the blunt end of my own knives when I’d still been learning to use them.
Finally, Galadriel came to the four hobbits, the first of which were Merry and Pippin, both of whom looks rather nervous standing before the regal elven lady. Their nerves were quickly banished, though, when she presented them both with identical, silver, belted sheaths for their short-blades and assuring them quietly that they would both find their courage when the time came. Both belts were beautifully wrought with gold buckles made to resemble the gold flowers that grew in the wood, and the two hobbits thanked her profusely with reddened faces.
Next, Sam was gifted with a length of incredibly strong, silvery elven rope, along with a small box with the Sindarin letter “G” carved into the lid. Galadriel explained without any question that the box contained a small amount of earth from her personal orchard, and that when Sam returned home to his own beloved garden, the flowers of Lothlórien would grow where he chose to sprinkle the soil.
“Thank you m’lady,” he said sincerely as he took both with reverence, then glanced between Merry and Galadriel sheepishly. “I don’t suppose you have run out of those nice, shiny daggers?”
Galadriel beamed fondly at him but gave no reply. Then she turned to me.
“And for you Eleanor, my gift comes as two halves.” She took a small leather pouch from a nearby handmaiden and offered it to me. I took it gingerly, and when I gave a questioning glance she nodded in encouragement for me to look. Inside were six different types of dried flowers, neatly tied off and perfectly preserved for medicinal use. A few I recognised, but several I’d never seen save for in the books I’d been assigned during my apprentice training.
“The flowers of Lothlórien are not only a balm to the eyes, but also to the body, when in the hands of a talented healer and tea brewer,” she said, and a note of amusement slipped into her tone. “May you use them wisely when you venture beyond the borders of this wood.”
She met my gaze warmly, but her eyes held mine for a moment too long to mean nothing. I swallowed at the nervous anxiety in my throat.
“Thank you,” I said, giving a nod of thanks since I still had no idea whether I was meant to bow or curtsy, and carefully tucked the pouch into my medical satchel. “But, what did you mean by ‘two halves?’”
“I mean this,” she said simply, taking my hand palm up in hers and withdrawing something very small from within one of her long, bell-like sleeves. The object she pressed into my palm turned out to be a tiny, cut-crystal vial, about the size of a thimble. It was so tiny you might not have noticed the pale, cloudy, liquid inside if you weren’t looking closely, held inside by a delicately wrought silver stopper dangling from a long, thin chain. For cut glass and silver it felt warmer than it should have in my hand, like it had been left in direct sunlight for a little too long.
“What is it?” I asked, looking at it with interest.
“An extremely rare poison.”
My curious gaze flicked up to her.
“Poison?” I blurted, somewhat shocked. “This kills?”
“Not precisely,” Galadriel explained patiently, a peculiar mix of amusement and sadness on her face. “It is a poison, but it does not take the life of the drinker.”
I looked up at her blankly, trying to read the expression on her face.
“What does it take then?”
“One hour’s worth, prior to the time of its consumption.”
I blinked stupidly at her, then looked at the tiny vial nestled in my hand.
"Seriously? Her gift to you is a magic roofie?" Tink whispered in my head, sounding both confused and unimpressed. Lady Galadriel took one look at the baffled expression on my face — a look that Tink I likely both shared — and started chuckling. I felt my cheeks warm a little and cleared my throat to try and scrape back some of my dignity.
“No offence intended, my lady,” I stated as politely as I could. “But I can blame half my current problems on self-induced amnesia. How is having a one-shot memory scrubber going to help me, or anyone for that matter?”
“Having it will not change anything, child. It is what you choose to use it for that matters,” she told me simply with a light shrug. Then, just for a moment, her expression turned deadly serious, and it added the weight of her inhuman age to her features. “Just as you chose to take your own memories.”
My stomach did an odd flip-flop manoeuvre and my eyes widened before I could stop them. I stared from her down at the vial, and had to resist the urge to drop it like it would burn me.
“You mean… this is the same thing I took when…?”
She didn’t give me a direct answer. She only pointed to the vial’s lid with an elegant finger.
“Read the inscription.”
I peered closer at the beautifully crafted pendant and saw that tiny letters had been carved into the silver of the stopper — what looked like a proverb written in Sindarin.
“‘Orthor goth nín, orthor im nín.(5)’ Defeat my enemy, defeat myself?” I read aloud, though quietly, then looked back at her. “I don’t understand.”
“I know, child,” she said gently, taking the little vial of memory poison from my hand and draping the chain carefully around my neck so it hung safely over my heart. “And that is the point. When you know enough to understand what those words mean, you will know what to do with it.”
I immediately opened my mouth to say more, to ask more — but something in Lady Galadriel’s eyes in that moment stopped me. She didn’t look unfriendly or unwelcoming, but there was something her expression that left no doubt she could not, and would not, say anything more, and that for me to pry would be unwise.
So I shut my gob, thanked her again for her generosity, and watched as she turned regally upon Frodo. The dark haired hobbit seemed strangely calm as he stared up at her, the elf lady all but towering over him. The she wore a strange expression of calm as she took a velvet pouch from a handmaiden, and withdrew from within a cut crystal vial a great deal larger than mine. Unlike mine, it had been sealed shut, and held inside what looked like clear water — but instead of mirroring the light coming through the trees, it seemed to be giving off a gentle light all on its own.
“And to you, Frodo Baggins of the Shire, I give the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star,” she said with reverence, handing him the softly glowing bottle. “It has been captured in water from my own mirror fountain. May it be light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
Frodo didn’t say a word. I’m not entirely sure he could. He seemed awestruck by the sheer beauty of what he now held in his hand. His thanks was considerably more eloquent than mine had been, and Galadriel gave him a sad smile, pressing an almost maternal kiss to the crown of his head.
“Namárië(6), Frodo Baggins,” she said sadly.
Then, finally, she turned her ancient blue eyes on Gimli.
The red-haired dwarf warrior had remained utterly and unusually quiet since she’d arrived, resting a scarred hand on his axe, his helm tucked under one arm, and refusing to look up at her face as she towered over him.
“And what gift would a dwarf ask of the elves?” Galadriel asked him seriously, almost curiously.
“Nothing,” Gimli answered immediately, his roughened voice quieter than normal. He paused for a second, and then looked up to meet her crystal blue gaze down at him and said quietly, “Except the privilege to look upon the Lady of the Galadhrim one last time, for she is fairer than all the treasures and jewels beneath the earth.”
Galadriel threw her head back a laughed. It was obviously a shock to more than just me, because a couple of the handmaidens visibly jumped. The rest of the Galadhrim just looked puzzled by their Lady’s reaction, while Celeborn only smiled and Gimli’s face turned nearly the same shade of red as his beard.
“Let it never be said that dwarves cannot be sincerely charming!” Galadriel stated warmly when she had finally regained herself. There was no trace of irony in the smile she gave the dwarf. “Yet, there must be something I may offer you, Gimli, son of Gloin.”
Gimli shook his head and mumbled something incoherent, but then he hesitated, toying with a thought.
“Actually, there was one thing. No, no, I couldn’t. It’s quite impossible. Stupid to ask…” he broke off into embarrassed mumbles that only Galadriel was near enough to hear, but as he spoke I saw her warm smile brighten even more. I might have been able to hear if I’d been given the chance to really concentrate on indulging my eavesdropping habit, but Legolas chose that moment to put a warm hand on my shoulder, drawing my attention away from them.
I turned to see him staring past me, his new bow clutched in one hand and his expression both surprised and confused.
“Something wrong?” I asked quietly, eyeing him. He opened his mouth to reply, then closed it and resigned himself to simply indicate at what had obviously drawn his attention. I followed his gaze past where Aragorn was now speaking with Celeborn, and where Boromir and Rumil were helping the hobbits load their gifts and packs the boats.
Immediately I saw what — or rather, who — had caught his attention.
On the other side of the clearing, apart from the rest of the Galadhrim and the handmaidens, stood Haldir and Merileth. They were speaking quietly and with fond gazes as they usually did, but there was something very different about them now. This time, instead of that awkward formality I’d seen before, I could see quite clearly that the fingers of both their hands were intertwined. They were speaking in the quiet, soft tones of those sharing secrets. After a moment Haldir lower his head to whisper something to her. She smiled warmly, her eyes twinkling with joy, but before he pulled back entirely, he left her with a soft kiss on the cheek. I half expected Merileth to float off the ground, her face all but glowing as she smiled up at him.
There was still the tiniest trace of that shyness between them from before, pink staining both their cheeks, but now it was more for proprieties sake rather than out of uncertainty about each other.
They both looked blissfully happy.
“Oh, that,” I said cheerfully, unable to keep the massive grin off my face.
“How did—? I assumed they…” Legolas just shook his head, rubbing his temple as if trying banish an oncoming headache, and I tried not to chuckle at the sight. “I feel as though I have missed the climax of a particularly unusual jest. When did this happen?”
“About three hours ago, if my sources are as trustworthy as they claim,” I said with a shrug, looking back at the happy couple with a sly smile.
“Your sources?” I could all but hear Legolas’s eyebrow raise. “Tell me, when did you acquire sources?”
“Since I decided that the both of them deserved a little extra leaving gift in return for saving my life and helping me recover, respectively,” I stated primly. I received silence in reply, and when I looked back I found Legolas giving me the flat look of an annoyed predator, or an impatient A-level teacher. I sighed in defeat and put both my hands up. “Fine. I may have taken steps to give Haldir the impression that it was a certain elf prince of full Sindar decent who was interested in pursuing Merileth’s affections.”
My companion’s jaw fell open. I just smiled sweetly at him.
“I also may have suggested that he’d better make his move fast, lest his beloved maiden be swept off her feet by another man.”
Legolas just shook his head and groaned.
“No wonder he has been sending me such hateful looks this past day. How did you even…?” But he broke off, narrowing his eyes down at me as I smiled innocently. “The two brothers, Gweredir and Colion?”
I put both hands out to either side of me innocently.
“They were apparently very convincing. Utterly distraught over the idea that their beloved sister may one day be whisked away to live in a strange land in the North by an equally strange elf princeling,” I couldn’t help but add just a little dramatic flair, placing the back of my hand against my forehead in the typical ‘fainting damsel’ pose. Legolas covered his face with his hand.
“I cannot decide whether I am impressed or horrified. That mind of yours is a dangerous thing.”
I chuckled merrily and poked him in the middle of the chest through his hunting leathers. “Consider this restitution for that scene you on me pulled back at the Looking Pools.”
A quiet laugh I recognised as Merileth’s came from behind me, and I turned to see my friend trying to cover her laughter at something while Haldir tried and failed to hold back a fond smile. I beamed at them.
“You have to admit, they do look very happy together.”
Legolas exhaled, but I could hear a smile creep into his voice as we both watched the new couple.
“That they do.”
The two of us stood there for a long silent moment, just enjoying the sight. Eventually I found myself turning to glance up at the elf standing next to me, only to find him already looking at me with a peculiar expression. He was still smiling, but it was a different kind of smile to the one I’d seen only seconds before. I still can’t really say why, but in that moment I suddenly felt incredibly self conscious under that grey-blue gaze.
My face went uncomfortably warm, and despite my efforts to look unaffected, my pokerface just wasn’t any good. I bit my lip and looked away.
Out of my peripherals I saw Legolas’s smile vanish. He cleared his throat a little awkwardly and also looked away, apparently suddenly fascinated by the texture of a nearby tree stump.
“I’m going to go. Make sure Merry and Pip aren’t making sandwiches out of the lambas,” I mumbled quickly. Legolas also muttered something about bidding the Galadhrim a proper goodbye, but I was already striding away before I had the chance to do or say anything like, well, me.
Merry and Pippin hadn’t gone and made sandwiches, thank God. Though that hadn’t stopped them for eating four lambas loaves each.
"One bite will fill the stomach of a man, my arse," Tink clucked her tongue in a noble effort to distract me from my awkward moment with Legolas. "Clearly they never planned on catering to hobbits."
I laughed silently inside my head, but didn’t try and reply.
When Aragorn had finished speaking with Celeborn and the last formal goodbyes had been made, we all took to the boats. Frodo and Sam were in one with Aragorn, the two significantly lighter hobbits sitting up front while Aragorn paddled from the back. Boromir, Pippin and Merry had the same setup in their boat, while Legolas, Gimli, and I had the last. Gimli had been less than sanguine about getting into such a small raft with such a high chance of it tipping, but he’d managed to settle down after Legolas had helped him in to sit just in front of me, while Legolas steered from the back.
The entire Galadhrim, Galadirel, Celeborn, and all the handmaidens remained on the shore to see us off. As we cast off from the dock I spotted Merileth with her brothers along with Haldir close by. I’d said my official goodbyes to the boys and their sister earlier, but that didn’t stop me returning their frantic waves and calls of good luck as the current carried us away from the shore.
Gimli grumbled at me halfheartedly to stop rocking the boat, but I politely ignored him until the current caught us, and my friend and her family were well out of sight. When they were, the smile fell from my face. I was about to turn and face ahead when I caught Legolas’s eye, he was looking at me again, only this time his expression was concerned rather than, well, whatever that had been before. I tried to give him a reassuring smile to show I was fine, but gave up halfway through and looked away.
I’d always been terrible at hiding my emotions, and Legolas had had more than enough time to learn to read my expression during our month’s training.
Pity it hadn’t worked as well likewise. To me he was still about as easy to read as a rocket science manual written in ancient Babylonian.
“Little did I imagine I would endure such a wound without ever entering battle,” Gimli’s grisly voice sounded more morose than I’d ever heard it before as he stared out ahead of the boat. “For I have looked upon that which is fairest in this world, and yet know what I will never gaze upon it again.”
I inclined my head curiously to him.
“You wished to stay? But you chose to journey onward with us?” I asked, surprised to hear Gimli of all people was as sad as the hobbits and I were to say goodbye to the Golden Wood. He sighed sadly.
“Aye, lass, I did some,” he answered softly, turning his head slightly towards me. “I doubt I shall ever call anything fair again, unless it be the Lady’s gift to me.”
“What was her gift?” Legolas asked quietly from behind me. Gimli turned his head away to look ahead so we wouldn’t see his face, but we could both hear the joy mixed with sadness when he answered.
“I asked for a single thread from her golden hair,” he told us quietly after a long pause. “And she gave me three.(7)”
(1) Elbereth — directly translates to “star queen” in Sindarin, and is the elves’ name for Varda, the greatest of the female Valar.
(2) fëa — “soul” (Quenya)
(3) limifëa — lit. a “soul link” (Quenya)
(4) hröa — “body” (Quenya)
(5) Orthor goth nín, orthor im nín — lit. “Conquer my foe, conquer my self.” (Bit of trivia: Tolkien never invented a single word for “myself” in elvish. He did however invent other unique words for obscure things like “wolf-howl,” “body of orcs,” and “shaggy hair.”)
(6) Namárië — “Goodbye” (Quenya elvish, an older and more reverential form of farewell than any Common speech version)
(7) For the non-Tolkien nerds among us — the significant of this is a reference to Feanor and his request to Galadriel during the First Age. He, one of her own kin, asked her three times for a single strand of her golden hair (the original inspiration for the forging of the Silmarils), and each time she rejected him, seeing through her abilities that there was nothing but pride in his heart. Yet thousands of years later she willingly gifted three to Gimli, a dwarf, when he humbly asked for only one to remember her beauty by. Make of that what you will. :)